Never go back, p.41
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       Never Go Back, p.41

         Part #18 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
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  talent either. So he was nobody’s number-one draft pick. This was not about recruiting an asset, either for the day job or the personal enthusiasm.’

  Then Shrago’s phone rang again. Same birdsong, same grinding, same words on the screen. It rang eight times, and then it stopped.

  Juliet came back into the room, and sat down on a daybed. From a second daybed six feet away Romeo said, ‘Well?’

  Juliet said, ‘I tried twice.’

  ‘Gut feeling?’

  ‘He might have been busy. If he gets within a hundred feet of them he’s going to turn his phone off. I think that’s pretty obvious.’

  ‘How long would he remain in close proximity to them?’

  ‘Could be hours, theoretically.’

  ‘So we just wait for his call?’

  ‘I think we have to.’

  ‘Suppose it doesn’t come?’

  ‘Then we’re finished.’

  Romeo breathed out, long and slow. He said, ‘Win or lose, it’s been a good ride.’

  Turner’s phone rang a minute after Shrago’s stopped for the second time. She put it on speaker and Leach said, ‘It’s a prepaid burner probably bought at a Wal-Mart. If it was bought for cash it’s about as traceable as my sister’s ex-husband.’

  Turner said, ‘Any details at all?’

  ‘Plenty. The only thing we don’t know is who owns it. We can see everything else. That phone has called only two numbers in its life, and it’s been called by only two numbers in its life, both of which are the same two numbers.’

  ‘Equally divided?’

  ‘Very lopsided.’

  ‘In favour of?’

  Leach read out a number, and it wasn’t Shrago’s.

  ‘That’s got to be Romeo,’ Reacher said. ‘Sergeant, we need you to check that number next.’

  ‘I already took that liberty, major. It’s the same deal. A prepaid burner from Wal-Mart, but this one is even more lonely. The only number it ever called, and the only number that ever called it, is its mate. This is a very compartmentalized communications network. Their tradecraft and their discipline look exemplary to me. You’re dealing with very smart people. Permission to speak freely?’

  Turner said, ‘Of course.’

  ‘You should proceed with extreme caution, majors. And you could start by tightening up a little.’

  ‘In what way?’

  ‘The other number the first guy called belongs to a phone currently immobile two blocks north of the White House. My guess is you’re in that fancy hotel, and either a bad guy is watching the building, or you already took the phone away from him, and it’s in your room. In which case you need to bear in mind, if I can see it, they can see it too. Until you switch it off, that is. Which you should think about doing.’

  ‘You can see it?’

  ‘Technology is a wonderful thing.’

  ‘Can you see the other two phones?’

  ‘Absolutely. I’m looking at them right now.’

  ‘Where are they?’

  ‘They’re together at an address in Georgetown.’

  ‘Now? Is this real time?’

  ‘As it’s happening. Refreshed every fifteen seconds.’

  ‘It’s the middle of the night. Most folks are fast asleep.’

  ‘Indeed.’

  ‘Scully’s place, or Montague’s?’

  ‘Neither one. I don’t know what the building is.’

  SIXTY-EIGHT

  LEACH SAID THERE was a lot of argument about triangulation and wifi and GPS and margins of error, and no one was talking left coat pocket or right pants pocket, but most would agree you could say with reasonable certainty which individual building a cell phone was in. And the bigger the building, the greater the certainty became, and Leach was fixed on a fairly large building. She had been able to isolate the address, and she had found it on the computer, and she said the street view showed it to be a fairly grand townhouse. She relayed the visuals, which included an antique brick facing, and four storeys, and twin sash windows either side of a fancy front door, which was painted shiny black and had a brass lantern above it. There was a letter slot and a street number on the door, and a small brass plaque that seemed to say Dove Cottage.

  Turner stayed on the line with Leach, and Reacher called Edmonds from his own phone. He gave her the address in question, and he asked her to search wherever she could, like tax records or title data or zoning applications. She said she would, and they hung up, and Turner hung up with Leach, and Turner said, ‘We don’t have a car.’

  Reacher said, ‘We don’t need one. We’ll do what Shrago did. We’ll take a cab, and we’ll approach on foot.’

  ‘Didn’t work out so well for Shrago.’

  ‘We’re not Shrago. And they’re defenceless now. Deputy Chiefs live in a bubble. It’s a very long time since they did anything for themselves.’

  ‘Are you going to cut their heads off with a butter knife?’

  ‘I didn’t get one yet. Maybe I could ask room service.’

  ‘Am I still CO?’

  ‘What’s on your mind?’

  ‘I want a clean arrest. I want them in the cells at Dyer, and I want a full-dress court martial. I want it textbook, Reacher. I want to be exonerated in public. I want the jury to hear every word, and I want a ruling from the bench.’

  Reacher said, ‘A clean arrest needs probable cause.’

  ‘So should cutting their heads off with a butter knife.’

  ‘Why did Montague let Zadran go home to the mountains?’

  ‘Because of his history.’

  ‘I wish we knew more about him.’

  ‘We know all we’re going to know.’

  Reacher nodded. A meaningless peasant, forty-two years old, the youngest of five, the black sheep of the family, disreputable, tried his hand at a number of things, and failed at them all. He said, ‘The butter knife would be easier.’

  Then his phone rang. It was Edmonds. He said, ‘That was quick.’

  She said, ‘I figured I might get an hour’s sleep tonight if I was quick.’

  ‘Don’t count on it. What have you got?’

  ‘Dove Cottage is a private members’ club. It opened four years ago. Membership roll is confidential.’

  ‘Four years ago?’

  ‘We have no evidence.’

  ‘Four years ago we have Morgan at Bragg, building a team around Shrago.’

  ‘We can’t prove a connection.’

  ‘Are Scully and Montague members?’

  ‘Which part of confidential didn’t you get?’

  ‘Any rumours?’

  ‘The membership is said to be all-male. Including politicians, but it’s not a political salon, and military, and media, and business, but no deals seem to get done. Guys go there to enjoy themselves, that’s all. Sometimes they stay all night.’

  ‘Doing what?’

  ‘No one knows.’

  ‘How do you get to be a member?’

  ‘I don’t, if it’s all-male.’

  ‘How would I?’

  ‘Invitation only, I guess. You’d have to know a guy who knows a guy.’

  ‘And no one knows what they do in there?’

  ‘There are hundreds of private clubs in D.C. There’s no way of keeping track.’

  Reacher said, ‘Thank you, counsellor. For everything. You’ve done a fine job.’

  ‘That sounds like goodbye.’

  ‘It might be. Or not. Like flipping a coin.’

  The latitude and the season meant they had about ninety minutes before the sun came up. So they took what they needed and rode down to the street, where a man in a hat got them a cab. The cab went way north on 16th, to Scott Circle, where it took Mass Ave to Dupont, where it took P Street across the park and into Georgetown. They went as far as the corner with Wisconsin Avenue, where they got out. The cab drove away, and they walked two blocks, back the way they had come, and they made a left, and they headed for their target, which was another two blocks nor
th, on the right, in what looked like the most expensive neighbourhood since money was invented. To the left were the landscaped grounds of some immense mansion. On the right were townhouses, gleaming in the dark, lustrous, burnished, each one substantial in its own right, each one proudly taking its place in line.

  Their target fit right in.

  ‘Some cottage,’ Turner said.

  It was a tall, handsome house, strictly symmetrical, restrained and discreet and unshowy in every way, but still gleaming with burnished lustre none the less. The brass plaque was small. There were lights on in some of the windows, most of which still had old wavy glass, which made the light look soft, like a candle. The door had been repainted about every election year, starting with James Madison. It was a big door, solidly made, and properly fitted. It was the kind of door that didn’t open, except voluntarily.

  No obvious way in.

  But they hadn’t been expecting miracles, and they had been expecting to watch and wait. Which was helped a little by the landscaped grounds of the immense mansion. The grounds had an iron fence set in a stone knee-wall, which was just wide enough for a small person to sit on, and Turner was a small person, and Reacher was used to being uncomfortable. Overhead was a tight lattice of bare branches. No leaves, and therefore no kind of total concealment, but maybe some kind of camouflage. The branches were tight enough to break up the street light. Like the new digital patterns, on the pyjamas.

  They waited, half hidden, and Turner said, ‘We don’t even know what they look like. They could come out and walk right past us.’ So she called Leach again, and asked for an alert if the phones moved. Which they hadn’t yet. They were still showing up on a bunch of towers, triangulated ruler-straight on the house in front of them. Reacher watched the windows, and the door. Guys go there to enjoy themselves. Sometimes they stay all night. In which case they would start leaving soon. Politicians and military and media and businessmen all had jobs to do. They would come staggering out, ready to head home and clean up ahead of their day.

  But the first guy out didn’t stagger. The door opened about an hour before dawn, and a man in a suit stepped out, sleek, showered, hair brushed, shoes gleaming as deep as the door, and he turned left and set off down the sidewalk, not fast, not slow, relaxed, seemingly very serene and very satisfied and very content with his life. He was older than middle age. He headed for P Street, and after fifty yards he was lost in the dark.

  Reacher guessed subconsciously he had been expecting debauchery and disarray, with mussed hair and red eyes and undone ties, and lipstick on collars, and maybe bottles clutched by the neck below open shirt cuffs. But the guy had looked the exact opposite. Maybe the place was a spa. Maybe the guy had gotten an all-night hot-stone massage, or some other kind of deep-tissue physical therapy. In which case, it had worked very well. The guy had looked rubbery with well-being and satisfaction.

  ‘Weird,’ Turner said. ‘Not what I was expecting.’

  ‘Maybe it’s a literary society,’ Reacher said. ‘Maybe it’s a poetry club. The original Dove Cottage was where William Wordsworth lived. The English poet. I wandered lonely as a cloud, and a host of golden daffodils, and all that shit. A little lime-washed house, in England. In the English Lake District, which is a beautiful spot.’

  Turner said, ‘Who stays up all night reading poetry?’

  ‘Lots of people. Usually younger than that guy, I admit.’

  ‘To enjoy themselves?’

  ‘Poetry can be deeply satisfying. It was for the daffodil guy, anyway. He was talking about lying back and spacing out and remembering something good you saw.’

  Turner said nothing.

  ‘Better than Tennyson,’ Reacher said. ‘You have to give me that.’

  They watched and waited, another twenty minutes. The sky behind the house was lightening. Just a little. Another dawn, another day. Then a second guy came out. Similar to the first. Old, sleek, pink, besuited, serene, deeply satisfied. No sign of stress, no sign of rush. No angst, no embarrassment. He turned the same way as the first guy, towards P Street, and he walked with easy, relaxed strides, head up, half smiling, deep inside a bubble of contentment, like the master of a universe in which all was well.

  Reacher said, ‘Wait.’

  Turner said, ‘What?’

  Reacher said, ‘Montague.’

  ‘That was him? Leach didn’t call.’

  ‘No, this is Montague’s club. He owns it. Or he and Scully own it together.’

  ‘How do you know?’

  ‘Because of the name. Dove Cottage is like Romeo. Deep down this guy is a poor intelligence officer. He’s way too clever by half. He just can’t resist.’

  ‘Resist what?’

  ‘Why did he let Zadran go home to the mountains?’

  ‘Because of his history.’

  ‘No, despite his history. Because of who he was. Because of who his brothers were. His brothers forgave him and took him back. Zadran didn’t rehabilitate himself and find a role. His brothers rehabilitated him and gave him a role. Part of their deal with Montague. It was a two-way street.’

  ‘What deal?’

  ‘People remember that William Wordsworth lived with his sister Dorothy, but they forget that both of them lived with his wife and his sister-in-law and a passel of kids. Three in four years, I think.’

  ‘When was this?’

  ‘More than two hundred years ago.’

  ‘So why are we even talking about it?’

  ‘The original Dove Cottage was a little lime-washed house. Too small for seven people. They moved out. It got a new tenant.’

  ‘Who?’

  ‘A guy named Thomas De Quincey. Another writer. It was wall-to-wall writers up there, at the time. They were all friends. But Wordsworth had stayed only six years. De Quincey stayed for eleven. Which makes Dove Cottage his, more than Wordsworth’s, in terms of how much time they each spent there. Even though Wordsworth is the one people remember. Probably because he was the better poet.’

  ‘And?’

  ‘Wait,’ Reacher said. ‘Watch this.’

  The door was opening again, and a third guy was coming out. Grey hair, but thick and beautifully styled. A pink face, washed and shaved. A three-thousand-dollar suit, and a shirt as fresh as new snow. A silk tie, beautifully knotted. A politician, probably. The guy stood for a second and took a deep breath of the morning air, and then he started walking, just like the first two, relaxed, unconcerned, serenity coming off him in waves. He headed the same way, towards P Street, and eventually he was lost to sight.

  Reacher said, ‘Conclusions?’

  Turner said, ‘Like we already figured before. It’s a sanctuary for refined older gentlemen with personal enthusiasms.’

  ‘What’s coming home in the ordnance shipments?’

  ‘I don’t know.’

  ‘What did Zadran’s brothers do for a living?’

  ‘They worked the family farm.’

  ‘Growing what?’

  Turner said, ‘Poppies.’

  ‘Exactly. And they gave Zadran a role. As their salesman. Because he
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